Traditional Jewish law regulates the collection and disbursement of tzedakah in an attempt to assure fairness in both functions. Few mathematical formulas are offered, but Judaism provides guidance on how much to give, how to minimize embarrassment to the recipient, and how to set priorities among competing demands for assistance. The so-called "ladder of tzedakah" expounded by the medieval thinker Maimonides, one of the best-known Jewish sources on this subject, emphasizes the importance of anonymous, generous giving, and on helping those in need become self-sufficient.
The social and economic realities of modernity have raised new questions and challenges for Jews who want to act upon the traditional Jewish obligation to assist the poor. To what extent does the modern welfare state obviate the necessity for individual initiative in tzedakah? What balance should be struck by contemporary Jews who want to partake fully in the life of the wider community, between assisting needy Jews and addressing Jewish needs, and providing for all those in need? To what extent must Jews today return to the biblical origins of tzedakah in a wider concern for fairness and justice, shaping a Jewish imperative to address the root causes of poverty and social injustice?
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